Jacqueline Asiimwe on Leadership & Philanthropy

#360Mentor is a continuation of the #40DayMentor series. In this episode, Comrade Otoa (CO) speaks to Jacqueline Asiimwe (JA) on Leadership & Philanthropy.

CO: It is a pleasure to have you Jackie on #360Mentor

JA: Thank you, Tony.

CO: There is something about you  and Gayaza High School, what’s that?

JA: Personally, the years that I spent at Gayaza were, I think, one of the best years of my life. If ever I am asked which past part of my life I would relive, I would choose those six years. The Gayaza I knew then, we got a holistic education from arts, sports,music and drama. It was an all round education and I really loved it. The connections you make with the friendships are lifelong. Being one of the oldest girls’ schools in Uganda, it comes with tradition and culture which you carry with you.

CO: Interestingly, I was at Mwiri and we hosted the Gayaza girls for sosh and the girls never gave us a return sosh but anyway …

JA: Sorry about that. I think the people who made the rules made them in such a way that the boys hosted the girls and not the reverse.

CO: Jackie, there’s something about your energy levels, I have seen videos of you and your siblings singing and dancing, what is it about all this energy?

JA: I am a mukiga, we are world known for having energy for days, stamping the ground and raising dust. But I think it is also about my upbringing. I am the first born of Reverend and Mrs Benon Mugarura and just the two of them. We were raised with a combined energy of those two people who literally allowed us to be and do and explore anything we wanted. There was never a no. I think the energy I have comes from them. Nothing is impossible.

CO: Let’s go back to your parents who I hold in very high regard. They have been very pivotal in many people’s lives especially to those who went through Makerere University. Tell us about them.

JA: My father was born and raised in Kabale. Actually, he is soon going to launch a book titled Unlikely. That title comes from the fact that he was a broke drunk mukiga who had no clothes on him. He had lice all over him. He used to sleep in the bar. He was homeless. To come from that background and become one of the most loved youth pastors not only in Kampala but across Uganda, starting missions and going to schools to preach. Who would have thought that the person on his last breath could breathe life into so many people.

CO: He is over 80 right now?

JA: He turned 80 this year. And my mother is 75. At the time when every woman was either a nurse or a teacher, she wanted to be a vet doctor and her father allowed her. Her family was the laughing stock of the village. I mean who takes their child to vet school? Who will marry her? She was among the first women vets in this country. That’s the background of the people from whom I come from. From a very unlikely story to trailblazing.

CO: And a story of defying the norm. Your siblings, you have interesting siblings. I should tell you that one of them gave me my first gig at the Monitor FM, Racheal Mugarura. You come from a family of giving. Does that come from your family or you instilled it in your siblings?

JA: It comes from the family. My parents are both artsy. They both love singing. We grew up acting and dancing. Growing up in church, I think, helps you to tap into all talents and skills. And also when you lead a church where you allow every type of expression to happen, that is how we became who we are. Gloria is a writer, Racheal is a super communicator and teacher, Paulo is a singer and songwriter. Peter is a DJ, I like to think I am an actress sometimes, a comedian sometimes, a poet sometimes… it comes from that root. My father at one point ran a radio show on Radio Uganda called Tell them Again. I think that’s where Peter picked the interest to become a  DJ. Dad used to host the Anglican Youth Fellowship, AYF. It was the first youth band in Uganda. It was that and books. We were surrounded with books, books and books, we read like nothing. That’s where we got our creativity.

CO: But then you are also so much into social justice and activism. You are so passionate about building leaders, tell us about that.

JA: Anyone who has been a preacher’s kid in the time that we grew up, it wasn’t a fancy title when most prelates were poor. You hardly had a salary to your name. There was that side of it yet even when you didn’t have a lot to give, you had to give. And one of the things you have to give is voice. Because there will always be that person who has less than you, who has less power than you. Sometimes you have to speak up and speak out. I saw my father do that in church.

He fought against the prejudice of young people using guitars. At one point, guitars were seen as musical instruments which only applied to secular bands and disco halls. He then bought Adungus and drums in church and still people walked out because these are demonic things. Even watching him advocate for what you believe in, speaking up against injustice, modelled for me something which was only a matter of time before I took up the mantle. And I have enjoyed the ride, not only to stand for but to stand with people of any colour, class.

One of the stories I tell about speaking up is about my siblings. We are three girls and two boys who come at the end. And that is what it is. At the time we grew up, the girls did the housework. I always tell people that the first gender conference I ever attended was in our house. We the girls, sat down our brothers on the table and told them this stops here. We eat the food, make the clothes dirty,  make the house dirty, we will all pitch in and do the housework… we asked them to cook the matooke the best way they could. If it was poorly peeled or cooked with the covers, we were okay with that. All of us would pitch in because we were all equal. For me it was a way of saying we can speak up when we see injustice, and that we can come to an understanding that speaks up for all people.

CO: The activism brings in your role in leadership which you have been promoting among young people. Tell us about your interest in leadership.

JA: Tony, I will keep taking you back to my upbringing. My father and mother were youth pastors. They were always in the business of identifying and making leaders. Leadership is cyclical and generational. As the old people live, they must be raising those who will come after them. Again it was modelled for me. Leaders don’t happen by chance. They have to be trained. And not once, again and again. I sat at the feet of my father to learn from him. I went with him to conferences where he was teaching young people how to lead. It was ingrained in me, how important leadership is and how important it is to support leaders to do well. And that’s why it is a passion for me.

I too lead and no one understands the struggles of leaders.

CO: You have been in the leadership space for some time now. You have been in the civil society space for about 20 years now where you have supported and seen many civil society organisations grow. Tell us about that journey

JA: 20 Years, oh my! One thing I have to emphasise is process. Process. Process. Process. Because I feel like some people want to wake up today and lead tomorrow. Process matters. If there is anything that I learnt 20 years ago when I started out in the field as a no-body. An intern. I had to sit at the feet of women lawyers and learn how to sit in a legal clinic, take notes, learn to listen to clients, learn how to listen to clients, teach people their rights. You never went to the field alone. You always shadowed an older lawyer. You learnt how to do it and practised  before they could allow you to appear in court because process matters.

I also learnt that any leader at any time is not an arrival lounge. As I teach leaders, I must also be learning at the feet of other leaders because there are always things I can improve and get better at. More recently, one of the things I have plugged into is self-care because if a leader is not well, their organisation cannot be well. Leaders have to talk about their well being, heart, body and soul. Is the leader well? When you are not well, you will unleash such ugliness on the people you lead.

CO: When you have no value, there is no value you can add on your team. It’s like a half empty glass trying to fill up another glass. We have always considered our leaders to be the guys who are strong and know it all. How do you deal with it in your training?

JA: I think the first thing is to realise that it is all a myth, then I know all kinds of things. One of the things that we talk about a lot is the invitation to vulnerability. To be vulnerable but also to be self aware. Again, if you are a leader who is not aware of who you are, then you easily perform to the crowd, and want to live up to the things you know are internally breaking you. Part of what we intend to create is communities of leaders that support each other. That when I am weak, I know Tony will be there for me and will speak for me. Embracing community and vulnerability. We need to challenge each other. We always challenge leaders to be in communities where they are learning from each other, not just eating pork and drinking beer. What books are you reading? We say it takes a village to raise a child but we also know it takes a community to raise a leader.

CO: Let’s talk about the good, the bad and the get better about philanthropy. What is good about it? And maybe tell us about civ-source.

JA: Civ comes from civilians. And source comes from being the source of knowledge, of support, of advocacy or information, of philanthropy to support leaders to challenge narratives around African philanthropy. We are a philanthropy support organisation formed in October 2017. We have been around for slightly over 4 years. One of the stories we are deeply passionate about is telling the stories of giving and generosity on this continent. Because anybody who’s anybody knows that out there on the global stage, Africa is known as the deep dark continent. Our push back is to say no, if you are African, you know that you cannot be where you are without someone having given or you cannot be where you are without having given. For us, it is a cycle of giving one to another. And that is how you build community and that is how communities have been resilient.

Giving is part of who we are, what we do. It is not the west coming to save the rest. generosity is who we are. That is what led us to documenting stories of proven generosity last year. It led us to document proverbs on African generosity. That is what led us to go take pictures and symbols of generosity. It is here, it is who we are. Notice it. encourage it. celebrate it.

CO: Jackie, on your side, you have found reason to make people aware of generosity, what is generosity?

JA: When we talk about generosity we talk about generosity expressed with three Ts. Time Treasure, Talent. There is also the assumption that I can only have money (treasure). We all  have something to give. You can give of your time as a volunteer. You can give of your talent.

CO: I would assume that comes natural to us as Africans because of the spirit of Ubuntu, why has it become critical that you have to remind us, have we become individualistic?

JA: Part of the reason why it is a critical conversation to have, is because when you stand on the global stage, African giving is invisibilized. I will give you an example; in 2019, I attended a world education conference in San Francisco. One of the sessions that I attended was philanthropy’s role in education. As I sat in that room as one of the one or two black people in that room, I looked around and wondered; where are the stories of the Africans that have taken in relatives, orphans and raised them? Those who have sponsored a child they didn’t even know by name, yet we can remember Save the Children that sends dollars to Africa. That was one of my awakening. Where is our story of generations and generations of Africans who have given? Where are the stories of the Africans who today are taking a child to school ? Where are the alumni associations across this continent that are building teachers’ homes? Those that are building classrooms and dormitories? When you disappear that voice, you are not telling the whole story of education or anything else for that matter. We cannot sit back when we know that our voice and value is disappearing. That is our responsibility as Africans. If we don’t, no one will tell the story. You know the proverb of the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. We have to tell our story of how we are building Africa day in day out.

CO: How does philanthropy address the dangers of inequalities in communities and societies?

JA: That is why it could get better. That as we give, for every child that we put in school, for every community school that we build, those are very important things. They are as important as the role of philanthropy in questioning inequality. That is the next level we can reach as home grown philanthropy. Every year, Rotarians do a marathon for cancer, and the question here is whether it is good to run and raise money to address cancer.

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